Simulation Angst

By Michael Feldman

May 7, 2009

The World Technology Evaluation Center (WTEC) recently released a study [big PDF] that assessed international research and development in simulation-based engineering and science (SBE&S). SBE&S encompasses computer modeling and simulation capabilities, which applies to HPC applications in such areas as life science, energy, materials science, manufacturing and scientific research. Intrepid HPCwire reporter John West covers the major findings of the study in this week’s issue.

The WTEC panel obviously did a lot of research for the study (the report was a whopping 426 pages), but the US-centric agenda of the National Science Foundation, who funded the report, came through loud and clear.

The WTEC report starts with this quote by Harry Truman from 1950:

We have come to know that our ability to survive and grow as a nation to a very large degree depends upon our scientific progress. Moreover, it is not enough simply to keep abreast of the rest of the world in scientific matters. We must maintain our leadership.

And for the most part, we did. But in the 21st century, maintaining this leadership is going to be a lot trickier.

In a nutshell, the WTEC report says that America, while still strong in computer simulation technologies, is losing ground to Europe and Asia. According to the authors, countries like Germany, Japan and China are, in many cases, out-investing us in SBE&S technologies. According to the study: “There is abundant evidence and numerous reports documenting that our nation is at risk of losing its competitive edge. Our continued capability as a nation to lead in simulation-based discovery and innovation is key to our ability to compete in the 21st century.”

These conclusions are along the same lines as similar studies, most notably the 2005 National Academies report, Rising Above the Gathering Storm. The WTEC study points to the flattening of the HPC computing landscape as a primary reason US leadership in simulation technology is eroding. In particular, the low cost and accessibility of supercomputing technology makes it possible for nations of fairly modest means to challenge American preeminence in simulation software.

But as I perused the report, I found myself wondering about some of the unstated assumptions of the study. In particular, if the world is flat with regard to supercomputing hardware, surely simulation codes and expertise are just as globally accessible. The authors act as if software and programmers have no way to cross national borders. To be fair, the study does point to some specific instances where, for political reasons, the US Department of Defense is prevented access to certain codes developed elsewhere. But the study doesn’t make a general case of how a national commitment to SBE&S would contribute to US competitiveness.

In a flat world, even the term “US competitiveness” is ambiguous. In a globalized economy, it’s hard to find head-to-head competition at the national level, since most industries rely on worldwide supply chains, employees and infrastructure. There is a reasonable case to made about how investing in SBE&S would help US tech workers, since centers of excellence based on specific technologies can certainly stimulate local economies. But the study never connects the dots.

In some cases there are no dots to connect. Today most businesses that provide SBE&S-related hardware, software and services are transnational organizations. Moreover, the firms that use these technologies — biotech companies, financial services firms, aerospace manufacturers and such — build and sell products for an international marketplace and often have a global footprint themselves.

The WTEC study points to companies like Toyota and Airbus as firms that are committed to simulation engineering excellence. But Toyota is itself heavily invested in the US, including a $100 million research institute in Ann Arbor, Michigan. And Airbus claims it spends more money with US suppliers than in any other country, supporting an estimated 190,000 jobs in 40 states. Likewise, US-based companies like IBM maintain research facilities in Switzerland and Germany to take advantage of local expertise and infrastructure. In that sense, it could be argued that American leadership in foundational simulation software is not nearly as important to US-based businesses as being able to tap into global talent and investments.

Despite the study’s shortcomings, the authors come up with some reasonable suggestions: a strategic commitment to SBE&S, increased funding and more industry-government partnerships. The US should at least be pulling its weight in research and development of these technologies, and public sector areas like defense are always going to require some special attention.

Unfortunately, the us-versus-them bias of the study prevented the WTEC authors from making another important recommendation: the US should engage in and encourage international partnerships to help push SBE&S forward. The study did point out that developing capable simulation/modeling software and expertise is a worldwide problem, given the rapid transition to highly parallel computing architectures. So it seems natural that international cooperation could be a good thing.

The big challenges of the 21st century — climate change, energy, health care, and terrorism — are all global problems whose technical solutions involve simulation software and engineering to one degree or another. At a time when global warming and fossil fuel shortages affect the entire planet, it’s hard to imagine a single country could sustain a competitive advantage if it solved, say, fusion energy. The same goes for discoveries that address problems like disease control or nuclear proliferation.

Truman’s remarks about US science more than 50 years ago came in the Cold War era when it really was us versus them. And back then home-grown technology and engineering could be more easily contained within national borders. But the world we’ve inherited makes the America-must-be-number-one approach a lot more questionable.

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

AI in the News: Rao in at Intel, Ng out at Baidu, Nvidia on at Tencent Cloud

March 26, 2017

Just as AI has become the leitmotif of the advanced scale computing market, infusing much of the conversation about HPC in commercial and industrial spheres, it also is impacting high-level management changes in the industry. Read more…

By Doug Black

Scalable Informatics Ceases Operations

March 23, 2017

On the same day we reported on the uncertain future for HPC compiler company PathScale, we are sad to learn that another HPC vendor, Scalable Informatics, is closing its doors. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

‘Strategies in Biomedical Data Science’ Advances IT-Research Synergies

March 23, 2017

“Strategies in Biomedical Data Science: Driving Force for Innovation” by Jay A. Etchings is both an introductory text and a field guide for anyone working with biomedical data. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPC Compiler Company PathScale Seeks Life Raft

March 23, 2017

HPCwire has learned that HPC compiler company PathScale has fallen on difficult times and is asking the community for help or actively seeking a buyer for its assets. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

HFT Firms Turn to Co-Location to Gain Competitive Advantage

High-frequency trading (HFT) is a high-speed, high-stakes world where every millisecond matters. Finding ways to execute trades faster than the competition translates directly to greater revenue for firms, brokerages, and exchanges. Read more…

Google Launches New Machine Learning Journal

March 22, 2017

On Monday, Google announced plans to launch a new peer review journal and “ecosystem” Read more…

By John Russell

Swiss Researchers Peer Inside Chips with Improved X-Ray Imaging

March 22, 2017

Peering inside semiconductor chips using x-ray imaging isn’t new, but the technique hasn’t been especially good or easy to accomplish. Read more…

By John Russell

LANL Simulation Shows Massive Black Holes Break ‘Speed Limit’

March 21, 2017

A new computer simulation based on codes developed at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) is shedding light on how supermassive black holes could have formed in the early universe contrary to most prior models which impose a limit on how fast these massive ‘objects’ can form. Read more…

Quantum Bits: D-Wave and VW; Google Quantum Lab; IBM Expands Access

March 21, 2017

For a technology that’s usually characterized as far off and in a distant galaxy, quantum computing has been steadily picking up steam. Read more…

By John Russell

HPC Compiler Company PathScale Seeks Life Raft

March 23, 2017

HPCwire has learned that HPC compiler company PathScale has fallen on difficult times and is asking the community for help or actively seeking a buyer for its assets. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Quantum Bits: D-Wave and VW; Google Quantum Lab; IBM Expands Access

March 21, 2017

For a technology that’s usually characterized as far off and in a distant galaxy, quantum computing has been steadily picking up steam. Read more…

By John Russell

Trump Budget Targets NIH, DOE, and EPA; No Mention of NSF

March 16, 2017

President Trump’s proposed U.S. fiscal 2018 budget issued today sharply cuts science spending while bolstering military spending as he promised during the campaign. Read more…

By John Russell

CPU-based Visualization Positions for Exascale Supercomputing

March 16, 2017

In this contributed perspective piece, Intel’s Jim Jeffers makes the case that CPU-based visualization is now widely adopted and as such is no longer a contrarian view, but is rather an exascale requirement. Read more…

By Jim Jeffers, Principal Engineer and Engineering Leader, Intel

US Supercomputing Leaders Tackle the China Question

March 15, 2017

Joint DOE-NSA report responds to the increased global pressures impacting the competitiveness of U.S. supercomputing. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

New Japanese Supercomputing Project Targets Exascale

March 14, 2017

Another Japanese supercomputing project was revealed this week, this one from emerging supercomputer maker, ExaScaler Inc., and Keio University. The partners are working on an original supercomputer design with exascale aspirations. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Nvidia Debuts HGX-1 for Cloud; Announces Fujitsu AI Deal

March 9, 2017

On Monday Nvidia announced a major deal with Fujitsu to help build an AI supercomputer for RIKEN using 24 DGX-1 servers. Read more…

By John Russell

HPC4Mfg Advances State-of-the-Art for American Manufacturing

March 9, 2017

Last Friday (March 3, 2017), the High Performance Computing for Manufacturing (HPC4Mfg) program held an industry engagement day workshop in San Diego, bringing together members of the US manufacturing community, national laboratories and universities to discuss the role of high-performance computing as an innovation engine for American manufacturing. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

For IBM/OpenPOWER: Success in 2017 = (Volume) Sales

January 11, 2017

To a large degree IBM and the OpenPOWER Foundation have done what they said they would – assembling a substantial and growing ecosystem and bringing Power-based products to market, all in about three years. Read more…

By John Russell

TSUBAME3.0 Points to Future HPE Pascal-NVLink-OPA Server

February 17, 2017

Since our initial coverage of the TSUBAME3.0 supercomputer yesterday, more details have come to light on this innovative project. Of particular interest is a new board design for NVLink-equipped Pascal P100 GPUs that will create another entrant to the space currently occupied by Nvidia's DGX-1 system, IBM's "Minsky" platform and the Supermicro SuperServer (1028GQ-TXR). Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Tokyo Tech’s TSUBAME3.0 Will Be First HPE-SGI Super

February 16, 2017

In a press event Friday afternoon local time in Japan, Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) announced its plans for the TSUBAME3.0 supercomputer, which will be Japan’s “fastest AI supercomputer,” Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IBM Wants to be “Red Hat” of Deep Learning

January 26, 2017

IBM today announced the addition of TensorFlow and Chainer deep learning frameworks to its PowerAI suite of deep learning tools, which already includes popular offerings such as Caffe, Theano, and Torch. Read more…

By John Russell

Lighting up Aurora: Behind the Scenes at the Creation of the DOE’s Upcoming 200 Petaflops Supercomputer

December 1, 2016

In April 2015, U.S. Department of Energy Undersecretary Franklin Orr announced that Intel would be the prime contractor for Aurora: Read more…

By Jan Rowell

Is Liquid Cooling Ready to Go Mainstream?

February 13, 2017

Lost in the frenzy of SC16 was a substantial rise in the number of vendors showing server oriented liquid cooling technologies. Three decades ago liquid cooling was pretty much the exclusive realm of the Cray-2 and IBM mainframe class products. That’s changing. We are now seeing an emergence of x86 class server products with exotic plumbing technology ranging from Direct-to-Chip to servers and storage completely immersed in a dielectric fluid. Read more…

By Steve Campbell

Enlisting Deep Learning in the War on Cancer

December 7, 2016

Sometime in Q2 2017 the first ‘results’ of the Joint Design of Advanced Computing Solutions for Cancer (JDACS4C) will become publicly available according to Rick Stevens. He leads one of three JDACS4C pilot projects pressing deep learning (DL) into service in the War on Cancer. Read more…

By John Russell

BioTeam’s Berman Charts 2017 HPC Trends in Life Sciences

January 4, 2017

Twenty years ago high performance computing was nearly absent from life sciences. Today it’s used throughout life sciences and biomedical research. Genomics and the data deluge from modern lab instruments are the main drivers, but so is the longer-term desire to perform predictive simulation in support of Precision Medicine (PM). There’s even a specialized life sciences supercomputer, ‘Anton’ from D.E. Shaw Research, and the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center is standing up its second Anton 2 and actively soliciting project proposals. There’s a lot going on. Read more…

By John Russell

Leading Solution Providers

HPC Startup Advances Auto-Parallelization’s Promise

January 23, 2017

The shift from single core to multicore hardware has made finding parallelism in codes more important than ever, but that hasn’t made the task of parallel programming any easier. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPC Technique Propels Deep Learning at Scale

February 21, 2017

Researchers from Baidu’s Silicon Valley AI Lab (SVAIL) have adapted a well-known HPC communication technique to boost the speed and scale of their neural network training and now they are sharing their implementation with the larger deep learning community. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Trump Budget Targets NIH, DOE, and EPA; No Mention of NSF

March 16, 2017

President Trump’s proposed U.S. fiscal 2018 budget issued today sharply cuts science spending while bolstering military spending as he promised during the campaign. Read more…

By John Russell

CPU Benchmarking: Haswell Versus POWER8

June 2, 2015

With OpenPOWER activity ramping up and IBM’s prominent role in the upcoming DOE machines Summit and Sierra, it’s a good time to look at how the IBM POWER CPU stacks up against the x86 Xeon Haswell CPU from Intel. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IDG to Be Bought by Chinese Investors; IDC to Spin Out HPC Group

January 19, 2017

US-based publishing and investment firm International Data Group, Inc. (IDG) will be acquired by a pair of Chinese investors, China Oceanwide Holdings Group Co., Ltd. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

US Supercomputing Leaders Tackle the China Question

March 15, 2017

Joint DOE-NSA report responds to the increased global pressures impacting the competitiveness of U.S. supercomputing. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Quantum Bits: D-Wave and VW; Google Quantum Lab; IBM Expands Access

March 21, 2017

For a technology that’s usually characterized as far off and in a distant galaxy, quantum computing has been steadily picking up steam. Read more…

By John Russell

Intel and Trump Announce $7B for Fab 42 Targeting 7nm

February 8, 2017

In what may be an attempt by President Trump to reset his turbulent relationship with the high tech industry, he and Intel CEO Brian Krzanich today announced plans to invest more than $7 billion to complete Fab 42. Read more…

By John Russell

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Share This